Saturday, December 30, 2006

The new T bus/trolley fareboxes are a complete disaster

When the German company Scheidt & Bachmann was awarded the contract from the MBTA to install the new AFC (Automatic Fare Collection) equipment back in 2003 ( after it was delayed by a lawsuit by another bidder Cubic Transportation Systems of San Diego there was one little problem but the company assured the T it would not be an issue. The company had never built a farebox for a bus and had to design one from scratch. The company had a great deal of experience in building ticket vending machines and was partners with a company in Belgium (Automatic-Systems) that would design and build the fare gates. This is no small matter as the fareboxes consisted a major part of the entire contract numbering some 1600 units. Scheidt & Bachmann decided they could build a better farebox themselves.

This document is an overview of all the transit contracts Scheidt & Bachmann have done worldwide.
The Boston contract info can be viewed at Page 33 of this PDF file. The Boston project is by far the largest contract they have had that is transit related.

Well they went to work and by January 2005 the new farebox was ready to be tested on the Silver Line. On the company website they gush about their new design...

The Farebox is a miniature Fare Vending Machine designed for buses and trolleys. Sleek and rugged, it allows customer to pay by coin, tokens, bills, magnetic swipe tickets, stored value tickets and or smart cards. The bus or trolley driver also has a display/control console that allows them to manage the fare, zone, patron category, etc. The driver can also view bills/banknotes that are presented for payment into the Farebox that the Farebox considers suspicious and then accept or reject them. At the end of a shift when the driver returns to the garage, all of the transaction data is then downloaded through a secure wireless network. This provides the Transit Authority to verify the shift’s transactions match the revenue that is stored in the Farebox’s vaults.
Ok that sounds good. So the test began and by all accounts it was a disaster. The Boston Globe reported back in
June of 2005 that the boxes would be redesigned. The Globe quoted Stephen Berrang, the T's assistant general manager who is supervising the Automated Fare Collection project. ''We've been working on this for five years, and they are showing us things that we hadn't expected. We are correcting them." The redesigned fare box will feature a smaller coin slot, one similar to that of a food or beverage vending machine. This should eliminate the problem of riders trying to throw their coins down the existing slot all at once, Berrang said.

After reading that I question if Mr. Berrang has ever ridden a bus in his life. Riders have been throwing money into fareboxes all at once since public transit began. The last thing a bus or trolley operator wants is a line of people waiting to get on the vehicle. But that is exactly what has happened and since the new fareboxes went into service on the Green Line you have seen trains delayed 5 or more minutes at a stop on the Riverside line. What makes this even more laughable is the company the T didn't choose Cubic just happens to have a nifty high tech farebox
that counts 10 coins PER SECOND. Just browsing through the list of companies that do make fareboxes you can see that the T had many, many options that were better including a box from the company that made their old farebox equipment GFI.

The T bought the GFI fareboxes that were just replaced in the mid 1990's after a
major fare theft operation was discovered at the T and the one major complaint riders had about them was they were unable to accept dollar bills. That wasn't GFI's fault that is what the T ordered. To save money on the farebox contract the T decided not to get the dollar bill option that GFI offered. Instead the T decided that riders could put dollar bills into a slot on the side of the farebox. It is impossible to calculate how much revenue the T lost from this idea as untold dollar bills were shredded trying to get them out of the farebox.

Pictured on the left is the GFI farebox the Chicago Transit Authority bought at the same time the T bought theirs in the 1980's. Notice that on the right is a slot for dollar bills that slides down into the box so the driver can verify that it is a dollar. No optical scanner that will spit back a dollar it doesn't like. Fares are collected on CTA buses using GFI Genfare fareboxes that were purchased in 1986. The equipment accepts both dollar bills and coins. An extension from Cubic Transportation Systems was added to the side of the fareboxes in the mid-90s to allow for the processing of magnetic strip transit cards and the Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus smart cards.
In 2005, the CTA initiated a “Go Lane” pilot program on its newer, low floor buses. On a Go Lane bus, the Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus sensor is relocated opposite the driver. This configuration allows for two customers to board and pay fares simultaneously, thus speeding up the boarding process. I have used this "Go Lane" feature on buses on Michigan Avenue and it cuts boarding in half. The Globe mentioned this in a Starts and Stops column earlier in December and wondered if the T planned to offer something similar.

We then flash-backed to an e-mail sent last month from Barry of Quincy, who recently rode the 151 Sheridan bus to Michigan Avenue in Chicago. "What caught my attention were all the people boarding who did not swipe a smart card at the fare box," he wrote. "Instead, these people with Chicago Cards entered the bus, and waved their cards at a round sensor located across from the driver, mounted before the first seat on the right hand side of the bus.

"So . . . while some passengers were paying with cash, or inserting fare cards at the traditional fare box, at least half of the people waved their Chicago cards and went quickly on board. This way, two passengers were able to pay their fares at the same time."

The T has no plans to do this. Beautiful!!!

BTW there is a very well done website about the Chicago bus system at The Chicago Transit Authority which may be more political than the T is lightyears ahead of Boston on services like bus tracking. The CTA decided to use a company called Clever Devices to monitor all bus operations. After testing Clever Devices in Boston a few years ago the T instead gave the contract to Siemens.

These boxes from Scheidt & Bachmann are breaking down at an alarming rate and they are only a few months old. The drivers by and large despise them because of the delays in boarding because riders have to put in each coin one at a time. The transit industry in North America isn't rushing out to buy these boxes either. Only one other transit system has bought these boxes and that was
Phoenix one year ago. In fact looking at the company website they haven't sold anything in 2006 and the site has been updated to show they will be at a transit trade show in 2007.

The jury is still out on the new faregates in the subway. At least Scheidt & Bachmann decided to use a company based in Belgium to design and build the gates. The company Automatic Control Systems
does have a proven track record in building fare gates . The company gushed in a press release "Boston ‘T’ Metro : a huge contract" Originally the T ordered the following

MBTA ordered 450 tripod turnstiles, 175 high-speed gates with flaps and 50 full-height turnstiles (single and double), for the metro and railways stations of the MBTA. The first prototypes will be delivered at the end of November 2003. The first installation is due to take place in July 2004. The balance will be progressively installed until June 2005.

Turnstyles?? Instead of those high flap gates that sometimes balk at letting you out of a station. What happened??? Well the company issued another press release in 2006 titled
"biggest contract ever signed by Automatic Control Systems" and explains that the T changed the order to the gate system instead of turnstyles. The only reason I can think of why the T did this was to crack down on turnstyle jumpers.

At the very start, Automatic Systems received an order for 450 Tripod Turnstiles, 175 High-Speed Gates and 50 Full-Height Turnstiles (one and two walkways).

But the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority), very concerned both by the security and safety of the passengers, and also preoccupied by the system profitability and fight against fraud, chose a better solution and decided to replace the original tripod turnstiles by high-speed gates, bringing the ordered quantity from 175 high speed gates to 643, totalling 19 different configurations.

Why the T decided on Scheidt & Bachmann instead of Cubic is known only at the top levels of 10 Park Plaza. While Boston would have been a large contract for them it probably would not have been as challenging for them as their contracts in New York, Chicago, and London to name 3. This webpage from Cubic shows they offer everything the T needed and the experience of other major projects. I'm sure if Cubic had gotten the contract there would have been issues but they do have the track record. But as usual track records don't count with the T. Just look at the Breda streetcars and the Siemens Blue Line cars ( oh wait they not here yet )

At least the faregates work which we can not say about the fareboxes. Those sadly we are stuck with.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The new route #66 EXPRESS is news to the drivers

Today during rush hour I was taking the #66 bus from Brookline to Harvard. The T promised more buses during rush hour starting today and viola a bus appeared in 2 minutes.

The sign was flashing #66 Harvard EXPRESS #66 Harvard EXPRESS

So I asked the driver what does EXPRESS mean for the #66. She replied "I dunno, I'm stopping everywhere, they just told me to use the sign".

So what do they mean by EXPRESS???????

Faster, Easier Boarding Now Arriving on the Green Line

Riders on the Green Line will experience many changes come January 1st. Mac Daniel writes about the changes in the Friday (12-29) Globe. The biggest change (and shock to many) will be the elimination of free fares westbound outside the subway. Nobody at the T seems to recall how the free fares came about in the first place. One person I talked to thinks it goes back to when service was temporarily suspended (never to return) on the A Watertown Line in 1969.

To speed up boarding the T will expand Show-n-Go into a full POP (Proof of Payment) system similar to the San Francisco Muni trolley system. On Friday the T was passing out flyers on the Green Line that say the following

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Driven by Customer Service
Easier Boarding Now Arriving on the Green Line

Starting January 1,2007, no matter where you get on the Green Line, you'll enjoy a more convenient and shorter boarding experience.

We've enhanced the current Show-n-Go program to include all of our surface stops -so now even more customers can enter at either the middle or the rear of the car to speed-up boarding. Where you board depends on how you pay!

Here's how it works:
If you pay with cash, board at the front door and you will be issued a receipt by the operator that will serve as your proof of payment.

If you have a pass (weekly, monthly, or visitor), you may enter at any door. T officials will be using handheld validators to verify that passes are valid. You may be asked to verify that your pass is valid at the farebox once you are on the vehicle.

If you use a stored value CharlieCard or CharlieTicket, you must either use the farebox at the front door, or have your fare deducted by an Official with a hand-held validator.

Time-saving tip! On the D Line we have platform validators. Stop beforehand, tap your CharlieCard or insert your CharlieTicket to receive a receipt, which will serve as your proof of payment.

Please remember to keep your CharlieTicket,
whether you board in the subway or on the surface level, until you reach your destination. You may be asked to produce proof of payment.

Additional Information:
T officials will make random, unannounced checks to ensure that each customer pays his or her fare. If you do not have a valid fare, you may be cited by the MBTA Transit Police.

For your convenience, many more retailers in your immediate area will soon be selling passes and fares to help streamline service along the Green Line.

Thank you for taking the T.

For more information, visit or call (617) 222-3200, TTY (617) 222-5146.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

T doesn't know how Charlie will work on Commuter Rail

Tom Long in the Northwest edition of Starts and Stops in the Globe today shares some nuggets about the T. Certainly apperars that it will be awhile before Charlie hits the Commuter Rail.

On Charlie coming to the Commuter Rail he wrote
Several readers have asked when the Charlie Card will be available for commuter rail.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said commuter rail cards will be rolled out next year, but it hasn't been decided how the system will work. Either riders will pass a card-reading machine as they enter the train, or conductors will read the passes with hand-held devices.

No name change for Hynes/ICA the T says
A rider on the MBTA's Green Line, John P. McAuliffe, e-mailed a question about the Institute of Contemporary Art's recent shift across Boston: "So now that the ICA has moved to the waterfront, will they call the Hynes/ICA a different name? This being Boston, I doubt they will, but won't out-of-town tourists be confused as heck about two different ICAs?" McAuliffe is also looking for an update on the rehabilitation of the Green Line's Kenmore Station.
As far as his ICA question, it seems out-of-towners are on their own. "The name is remaining the same," said MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera.

Kenmore Station update
And as for Kenmore Station, Rivera reports that starting next month a contractor will install structural steel and pour concrete for the walls, floor, and roof for an expanded mezzanine area. New inbound and outbound stairs and the eastern ends of the inbound and outbound platforms should be completed by opening day for the Red Sox, April 10, she said.
By July or August, elevators should be installed and operating. The new glass-and-steel canopy will be constructed from June to September, and a new bus way will open in September or October. New escalators should be completed by December. They will be used as a temporary stairway during Red Sox season.

Farewell and happy retirement to Gary LaPierre

Gary LaPierre of WBZ Radio 1030 retires Friday (12/29) after being the morning news anchor at the station for 40 years. Believe it or not when he started doing the morning news at WBZ the station was the king of teenagers in New England with it's Top 40 format only to be toppled 2 years later by WRKO. The station slowly switched to a more news/talk format and those teenagers grew up and continued to listen. Chances are many of you woke up to Gary every morning. He was the voice of school and work cancellations in major storms and when a crisis was happening in the real world many of us would listen to him.

20 years ago I used to work nights and I would see Gary at the end of my day at a long forgotten breakfast place in North Cambridge called Vic's. He would drag himself in for breakfast and coffee and he looked miserable being up so early. He would quietly read the Globe and Herald while eating then continue into work. But there is one morning I will never forget.
The all night waitress was a working mother named Louisa and she had been in a panic as she could not find a Cabbage Patch Doll for her daughter anywhere. On Christmas Eve morning Gary came in with a Cabbage Patch Doll for her. It was a wonderful Christmas moment.

Dean Johnson on the WBZ website offers a tribute to Gary as does Jessica Heslam in the Herald. The Associated Press also covered Gary's retirement.

Good Luck Gary in your retirement and enjoy sleeping in every morning. Boston and New England will miss you very much.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Why T cars are not interchangeable between lines

The Boston subway has it's quirks and a big one is that each line has it's own dedicated fleet of cars.

Tom Long in the Northwest Globe edition of Starts and Stops gets the T to explain why

The MBTA was created by the consolidations of private carriers, resulting in three rail lines with different dimensions. The unique tunnel and platform dimensions are the most significant characteristics that prevent a standardized vehicle design.

The length and width of the rail cars are also problematic. The cars range in width from 9 feet 2 inches on the Blue Line to 10 feet on the Red Line. The Red Line vehicles are 69 feet 6 inches long, the Orange Line 65 feet 4 inches, and the Blue Line 48 feet 6 inches.

The reason the Blue Line cars are shorter is because the Bowdoin loop requires a vehicle that can negotiate a 66-foot curve. The shorter cars enable a tighter turning radius for the vehicle. The Orange or Red Line would not be able to negotiate this turning radius in a tunnel.

Pesaturo said the T investigated the possibility of refitting Orange Line cars for use on the Blue Line while waiting for new cars, but the cost was prohibitive.

This website offers a quick overview of the history of the subway in Boston
Of note is what occured on the Easter/Patriot's Day weekend of 1924. The entire East Boston tunnel was converted from trolley to heavy rail subway IN THREE DAYS!!!!
Conversion of East Boston Line to Multiple Unit Trains. The East Boston Line had been built in 1904 for trolleys with no premonition of a conversion to multiple unit operation. Over an April double-holiday weekend, the East Boston Line underwent major change. Patrons went home aboard familiar trolley cars. They returned on Monday on brand-new steel multiple unit trains which they could board and leave at platform level. The grade in the tunnel was 5%, severe for trolleys, but even more so for multiple unit. subway trains. There were sharp curves and close clearances. Nearly four miles of third rail had to be hoisted onto pre-set insulators, electrically connected, and tested.

January Monthly Passes are CharlieTickets unless

The MBTA Sales Locations at Downtown Crossing, Government Center, Harvard, and North and South Station are now selling the January monthly passes and they continue to be CharlieTickets. The only difference from before is the new Link pass which is marked as such. One exception to this at the Harvard location ( and I assume systemwide) Seniors and Disabled patrons must use the smartcards they have been given and buy their pass at a vending machine and these are the patrons that will have the hardest time with the new technology

If you want to use your new CharlieCard as the monthly pass you have to buy it at a vending machine not at a sales location. No word yet if passes being issued by an employer will be on a CharlieCard or will also be a CharlieTicket.

Also unclear as of yet is what will the new retail locations offer as a monthly pass, the CharlieCard or CharlieTicket. Please let us know your experiences.

I can pretty well predict that people given the choice of using a vending machine or dealing with a human clerk will continue to deal with the clerk. plus the CharlieTicket is marked January 07 so that will keep the Show-n-Go users on the Green Line happy. But it will also mean slower boarding times as it takes a few seconds for the gates and fareboxes to read a CharlieTicket and spit it back. Now you have to wonder why the T spent the entire month of December handing out CharlieCards if they were keeping the monthly on a CharlieTicket. Monthly riders are simply going to discard the new smartcard they were given and then when the T does decide to insist the monthly pass is on the CharlieCard only they are going to have to pass out cards all over again. One good thing is at least for now the CharlieCard is free in Boston. In Washington and Chicago you pay the transit company $5 for the card. Don't be shocked if that soon happens in Boston as well.

So for now it seems the only people who will really need a CharlieCard are riders who don't buy a pass and will be the most likely patrons who don't have a smartcard and will pay the surcharge.

befuddled rider trying to figure out the new T vending machine

T will be FREE after 8 PM New Year's Eve

Today, the MBTA announced its service schedule for First Night through the holiday weekend. The MBTA is providing extra transit services throughout the First Night Festivities and will be offering free service after 8:00 p.m. The MBTA is well prepared to transport First Night participants in and out of Boston safely and efficiently and urges travelers to take the T to avoid traffic and parking hassles.

Service will increase during the afternoon leading to rush-hour service levels from approximately 7:00pm through the conclusion of the event.

Evening trains will provide rush-hour levels of service and will run until approximately 2:00am.

Service For New Year's Eve and New Year's Day

North Station Improvement Project - update 12/27/06

The North Station Improvement Project is well underway and soon Northside Commuter Rail passengers will have some creature comforts enjoyed by Southside passengers at South Station. The project is being funded by Delaware North Companies of Buffalo, New York the owners of the TD Banknorth Garden and the hockey Bruins. When completed the size of the waiting area will be almost 3 times what it is today , much improved toilet facilities and information signs that should be much better than the existing TV monitors being used.

North Station riders have suffered for over 10 years since the old station and Garden were demolished but it appears things will be much better by next summer. One of the big mysteries in Boston transit was why the old station was renovated in the late 1980's with many shops (Au Bon Pain, Hudson News, Blockbuster Video) when it was obvious when the new Garden was finished the station would be closed. But that is the Boston we know and love...

This is how North Station looked on 12/27

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The T's new trip planner

I have been playing with the T's new trip planner and overall I give it high marks. One thing that needs to be adjusted is the walk times which seem twice as long as they should be. ( and I'm not a fast walker ) In test runs I have made it seems to be giving the correct information of which routes to take and the travel times themselves seem accurate.

Under "Select Landmark Type" I would suggest a list of hotels that would make it easier for tourists and the list of "attractions" needs to be increased. For example it might be a good idea to include Fenway Park and TD Banknorth Garden to the list. However it shows great potential so let us see how they tweak it the next few weeks.

To get a better feel on the trip planner let us take a look at some other cities.

New York City just updated their trip planner and it doesn't load maps unless asked. Please note that New York transit has a new web address

Chicago's doesn't offer maps but offers consise info. Chicago is also testing bus tracking on the web and with a PDA. Chicago is using a company called Clever Devices for GPS which the T no longer uses as was explained here.

In the San Francisco Bay Area all the local transit options are combined at one site. The SF Muni also is giving real time info on select routes.

Washington Metro seems easy to use.

SEPTA in Philadelphia is simply awful but then again if you rode SEPTA you would never complain about the T ever again.

The trip planners in Los Angeles and Seattle

Toronto offers NOTHING in the way of online trip planning but that maybe better than Montréal which is very confusing

Point is let us give the T praise for at least trying to bring online trip planning to a new level. There is nothing else better out there at least in North America as of now.

thoughts while riding the T today - 12-26-06

It was like a Saturday today as it was very quiet on the Red Line at rush hour leaving from Harvard. It seems like many have taken the week off from work and when you consider the students are gone the city seems empty. I am not complaining.

My question of the day is when will the T get around to eliminating the ICA part of the Hynes T stop announcement given that the ICA has moved to a beautiful new home on the Waterfront. I *think* they have edited some trains of the ICA but obviously not all. It seems minor but when the tourists return in the spring it could be confusing.

The return of the old Arlington Green Line stop

As renovations continue on the Green Line at Kenmore, Copley and Arlington some old Boston subway history is coming back into view. At Arlington you can see how the station appeared until the mid 1960's with the station name in mosaic tile which was common on the old MTA.

The Arlington stop was the first station that was renovated on the entire T system back in 1967 and the old tiles were covered up.

I don't know it the final plans for the renovation of Arlington include restoring the tiles but they seem to be taking great care in not damaging them. We have seen the tiles restored at the Blue Line stop at Government Center (SCOLLAY UNDER) and at South Station on the Red Line (SOUTH STATION UNDER).

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The T explains why the website crashed

from Mac Daniel in the Sunday Globe

According to the T, the site had more traffic to its schedules and maps than the contractor expected. There was also something the T called "a flaw in stress testing."
The Web guys who designed the site had it look up each schedule and map route every time someone requested it. But that was occurring so often that many of them never got through to the application server -- and never came back from the database server.
Stress tests were done, but they didn't reproduce the stress the schedules and map requests would cause on the server. And then the web site died.